Don’t Kick Russia Out of the Chemical Weapons Convention Over Navalny

April 19, 2021
Hanna Notte

The following was originally published at Foreign Policy.

Ahead of this week’s conference of all 193 state parties to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), pleas for tougher action against Moscow over the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have grown louder. A recent piece published by Foreign Policy calls for a 90-day ultimatum to Moscow to come clean over the Novichok poisoning or else face suspension from the OPCW—reminiscent of a similar deadline the organization set for Syria last summer. Others have echoed such sentiments, calling for inspections of Russian facilities suspected to be part of the country’s alleged chemical weapons program.

Proposals for tightening the screws on Moscow come against the backdrop of serious friction between Russia and the West—fueled in part by Navalny’s poisoning. U.S. President Joe Biden recently agreed with characterizations of his Russian counterpart as a “killer,” leading Moscow to recall its ambassador in Washington. Over the weekend, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned the Russian government “there will be consequences” if Navalny—whose health is rapidly deteriorating—dies in prison. At the OPCW in The Hague, meanwhile, the Navalny case has compounded long-standing grievances against Russia, particularly over its support of the Syrian regime and the 2018 poisoning of former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom.

Proponents of punishing Moscow are concerned about the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) turning into a paper tiger if it can be violated without consequence. The recent Foreign Policy piece even muses that Russia—and its ally Syria—turning their backs on the OPCW could be “a good thing.” But state parties are well advised to avoid a full break with Moscow. The long-term viability of the global chemical weapons regime—which aims to mitigate, if not eradicate, chemical warfare—is dependent on Russia maintaining a stake therein.

Continue reading at Foreign Policy.

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